Crazy Rich Asians
|Followed by||China Rich Girlfriend|
Crazy Rich Asians is a satirical 2013 romantic comedy novel by Kevin Kwan. Kwan stated that his intention in writing the novel was to "introduce a contemporary Asia to a North American audience". He claimed the novel was loosely based on his own childhood in Singapore. The novel became a bestseller and was followed by two sequels, China Rich Girlfriend in 2015 and Rich People Problems in 2017. A film adaptation of the novel was released on August 15, 2018.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (January 2021)
Nowhere in the world are there to be found people richer than the Chinese.— Ibn Battuta
The book is told from the perspective of five main characters: Rachel Chu, Nicholas (Nick) Young, Eleanor Young, Astrid Leong, and Edison Cheng. The story revolves around the grand wedding of Singapore's most eligible bachelor, Colin Khoo, and a fashion icon, Araminta Lee, which everyone calls the wedding of the year.
Rachel is a New York University (NYU) professor of economics, who is originally from Cupertino, California. She was raised by her single mother and leads a typical middle-class life. When her boyfriend Nick, also an NYU professor, takes her to meet his family in Singapore, she is completely unaware of what is in store for her. Although he grew up in London, Nick is a Singapore native. Unknown to anyone in New York, he not only belongs to one of the top ten wealthiest families in Asia but is possibly sole heir to his family's great fortune. Despite this wealth, he was raised to be humble and to keep a low profile. Because of his upbringing, he is confident his family will approve of his simple girlfriend, but things turn out very differently than he expects.
Eleanor Young is Nick's controlling mother who is obsessed with prestige and pride. Since Nick was born, she has allowed her mother-in-law, the Young family matriarch, to practically raise her only child, so that, when the time comes, she will leave the family fortune to him. As a result, Eleanor is not very involved in Nick's upbringing and is even separated from his father, who chooses to live and work in Australia to manage their family's businesses there. She is also very adamant that Nick marry someone from the close-knit, rich circle of her friends and plans to sabotage Nick and Rachel's relationship. She hires a private detective to gather information on Rachel's family, which she later attempts to use to drive Rachel out of Nick's life, but ultimately results in her son freezing her out of his life. Rachel is shocked when she learns who her father, Zhou Fang Min, is and leaves to stay with her friend Goh Peik Lin and her family.
Astrid Teo (née Leong) is Nick's famous cousin whose beauty is well known all across Asia. Although she maintains a positive image to her family and society, her marriage is suffering. Michael, her long-suffering husband, is a self-made young man who is looked down on because he does not come from money. Astrid discovers that he might be having an affair with someone in Hong Kong. When she confronts him, Michael admits to having an affair and leaves. With the help of her ex-fiancé Charlie Wu, Astrid confronts him again in Hong Kong where he reveals that he has, in fact, not been having an affair and has only made it seem like he had so that she would want to divorce him, being no longer able to deal with the outsider status since he married into Astrid's family. In a last-ditch effort to help save their marriage and make Astrid happy, Charlie secretly buys shares in Michael's startup company at a highly inflated price.
Edison Cheng is Nick's spoiled Hong Kong cousin who works as a banker. He is one of the few members of his clan who lives up to his birthright as a member of one of the wealthiest families in the world. He wants to impress all his friends and relatives at the wedding, but his plans fall short because of his family, particularly his younger brother Alistair who is dating Kitty Pong, a starlet of questionable background and intentions. Alistair and Kitty are briefly engaged but she leaves him for Bernard Tai, a billionaire's son, after Oliver T'Sien misleads her to believe that the Chengs are not as rich as she thought.
Rachel and Nick suffer a falling out. Nick tries to convince her to stay in the relationship with him, professing that he no longer cares about what society and his family expect from him. Rachel doesn't believe him, claiming that no matter how much they try to ignore his family's legacy, they know they may not be able to. She tells Nick that she wants her children to grow up treasured and loved by their relatives like her own family has done, not raised with a family whose primary concern is their own wealth, family legacy, and the kinds of rich people they know. Rachel breaks up with him as a result and Nick realizes she's lost to him. Depressed, he stays at Colin's house for a while. At the Goh house, Rachel calls her mother, Kerry, and they have a falling out. She demands to know why Kerry didn't tell her about Fang Min being her father. When Kerry tries to explain that he was abusive and she had to save her life, Rachel blames her for her actions and hangs up the phone.
While staying at Colin's house, Nick regrets bringing Rachel to Singapore without giving her an insight into how to deal with his wealthy family. Instead of his family liking Rachel, they successfully turn her against Nick, which leads to their eventual break up. He mentions this to Colin, along with his thoughts of letting Rachel go. However, Colin suggests that Nick fight for Rachel and do one thing to win her back. As Rachel and Peik Lin are preparing to leave to meet Fang Min, Rachel's father who is in jail, Nick stops them from leaving, revealing that he's brought something from China to her. To Rachel's anger, it's her own mother that he brought to Singapore. Annoyed with Nick for preventing her one chance of meeting her father, Rachel tells Kerry off: she doesn't want to see her again and wants her to just let her meet her father. In desperation, Kerry finally reveals the truth about her real father: it isn't Fang Min but a man nicknamed Kao Wei. Rachel decides to listen to her mother and learn about the abuse she went through with Fang Min, including how Kao Wei saved her life by helping her escape to America, where she stayed with her relatives. Upon realizing how abusive Fang Min was to Kerry, Rachel is remorseful for her earlier behavior and reconciles with her mother. Nick takes the ladies to Marina Bay Sands for Singapore Slings. Rachel reunites with Nick.
- Rachel Chu: A Stanford and Northwestern-educated American of Chinese descent who is an economics professor at New York University. She did not have a father and was raised by her mother, an immigrant from China.
- Kerry Chu: Rachel's single mother, a real estate agent in Cupertino, California, who immigrated from China to the United States.
- Nicholas "Nick" Young: Rachel's boyfriend, who is a history professor at New York University. He currently lives with Rachel in New York City, but is originally from Singapore and hails from a rich family.
- Eleanor Young (née Sung): Nick's controlling mother who disapproves of Rachel. She is revered by her friends and many people her age for becoming Mrs. Philip Young. However, Eleanor wasn't liked by Su Yi. She has spent most of her adult life trying to position Nick as Su Yi's favorite grandchild.
- Philip Young: Nick's laid-back engineer father who lives in Sydney. He is Su Yi's only son and is therefore expected to inherit Tyersall Park, as well as the largest portion of Su Yi's fortune.
- Astrid Teo (née Leong): Nick's fashionable cousin who is referred to as "the Goddess" and is known for her beauty and impeccable fashion sense. Her old-moneyed Peranakan family, the Leongs, are implied to be even richer than the Youngs.
- Shang Su Yi, Lady Young: Nick's wealthy grandmother who, along with her brother Alfred Shang, inherited the fortune from her father, Shang Loong Ma. Su Yi owns the largest single piece of private real estate in Singapore with a palace-like mansion called Tyersall Park where she has lived most of her life. Her late husband was Sir James Young, a doctor. She doesn't approve of Rachel and Eleanor.
- Felicity Leong (née Young): Astrid's mother and Su Yi's second eldest child. She married Henry "Harry" Leong Sr. and has three other children: Henry Leong Jr., Dr. Peter Leong, and Alexander Leong.
- Victoria Young: Su Yi's second youngest child who has nor married and is the only family member, besides her mother, who still lives at Tyersall Park.
- Alexandra "Alix" Cheng (née Young): Su Yi's youngest child who married a world-renowned heart surgeon, Dr. Malcolm Cheng, and invested his earnings in real estate, creating a fortune for her family. She and her husband are in constant worry for their children, especially their oldest, Eddie.
- Edison "Eddie" Cheng: Nick's cousin who wants his family to have a picture perfect life. Despite having wealthy parents, with his father being one of the world's renowned heart surgeons, and his mother coming from the wealthy, aristocratic Youngs and creating his family's massive fortune in real estate, they live a humble lifestyle, something that Eddie is ashamed of.
- Fiona Cheng (née Tung) : Eddie's wife who comes from an old-money family in Hong Kong. Unlike her husband, Eddie, she does not care what others think of her or her family.
- Alistair Cheng: Eddie's brother who's involved in the Hong Kong movie business. He is dating a soap opera star, Kitty Pong, who later dumps him, believing he's not as rich as his family members are.
- Kitty Pong: A gold-digging soap opera star who is dating Alistair. When she breaks up with Alistair for Bernard and marries him in China Rich Girlfriend, she ends up making several mishaps in the tabloids and including embarrassing Alistair's more powerful family.
- Goh Peik Lin: Rachel's bubbly, generous, outspoken, and shopaholic old friend who comes from a rich Singaporean family who owns a property development and construction company.
- Colin Khoo: Nick's best friend and Astrid's cousin, whose family is one of the richest in the world. His wedding to Araminta Lee is the most talked-about wedding in all of eastern Asia. His mother, who died years ago, was the sister of Astrid's father.
- Sophie Khoo: Colin's sister and also Astrid's cousin who works as a pediatric surgeon and befriends Rachel. She is sent by Astrid to look out for Rachel at Araminta's bachelorette party.
- Araminta Lee Khoo: Colin's fiancée and later, wife, who befriends Rachel. She is Singapore's most celebrated fashion icon, who once modeled for famous designers like Alexander McQueen, whose father is one of China's richest men and whose mother owns a luxury hotel chain.
- Jacqueline Ling: Su-Yi's goddaughter and a close family friend to the Shangs, Youngs, and T'siens. She is the granddaughter of philanthropist Ling Yin Chao.
- Oliver T'sien: Nick's cousin who works for Christie's in London. He is the one who lies to Kitty about Alistair's humble background
- Cassandra Shang: Nick's gossipy cousin once removed who seems to know everything about everyone, earning her the nickname, "Radio One Asia". She is a first cousin of Nick’s father.
- Datin Carol Tai: A devout Christian who's also the wife of a corrupt billionaire, Dato' Tai Toh Lui. She is one of Eleanor's best friends.
- Bernard Tai: Carol's son and also Nick and Colin's former classmate. He is very spoiled by his father.
- Francesca Shaw: The heiress of her family's company, Shaw Foods. She is Nick's vain, snobbish, and socialite ex-girlfriend who doesn't like Rachel. Her mother, Nadine, is also good friends with Eleanor.
- Michael Teo: Astrid's ex-army husband who owns a start-up company.
- Charlie Wu: Astrid's tech billionaire ex-fiancé who still has feelings for her despite being married to someone else. Astrid's parents disapprove of him because he does not come from an old-money family like hers.
The Young, T'sien, and Shang Clan
Shang Su Yi's father, Shang Loong Ma, started a shipping company in Beijing and then emigrated to Singapore with his multiple wives and children. Although he had six children, he only formally accepted three: Alexander (Ah Jit), Su Yi, and Alfred. Shang Loong Ma arranged for his daughter to marry Sir James Young, who was a doctor. He also arranged for Sir James' sister, Rosemary, to marry T'sien Tsay Tay. T'sien Tsay Tay's oldest daughter was then promised to Alfred. Shang Su Yi and Sir James Young had five children: Felicity, Catherine, Philip, Victoria, and Alexandra. T'sien Tsay Tay and Rosemary Young had five children as well: Mabel, Richard "Dickie", Mark, Anna May, and Clarence. Alfred Shang and Mabel T'sien had four children: Leonard, Charles, Frederick, and Cassandra. Alexander (Ah Jit) died as a young man with no heirs.
In the book, a huge amount of respect and admiration is shown to the Youngs, Shangs, and T'siens primarily due to their wealth and prestige as one of the oldest wealthy families in Singapore and Asia.
|Wang Lan Yin||Shang Loong Ma|
|Ah Jit Alexander Shang[a]||Rosemary Young||T'sien Tsay Tay|
|Richard "Dickie" T'sien[b]||Anna May T'sien[c]|
|Shang Su Yi, Lady Young||Sir James Young||Mark T'sien[d]||Clarence T'sien[e]|
|Mabel T'sien||Alfred Shang|
|Sir Leonard Shang[f]||Charles Shang[g]||Frederick Shang[h]||Cassandra Shang[i]|
|Catherine Young[j]||Eleanor Sung||Philip Young||Alexandra Young||Dr Malcolm Cheng|
|Felicity Young||Henry "Harry" Leong Sr.||Victoria Young|
|Rachel Chu||Nicholas Young||Fiona Tung||Edison "Eddie" Cheng[k]||Alistair Cheng|
|Astrid Leong||Michael Teo||Peter Leong||Cecilia Cheng||Tony Moncur|
|Henry Leong, Jr.||Alexander Leong|
|Cassian Teo||Three children||Jake Moncur|
Background color applied to blood relatives. Bold name indicates a third-person point-of-view character. The book is told from the perspective of five main characters, shown in this chart. Four are related: Nicholas (Nick) Young, Eleanor Young, Astrid Leong, and Edison Cheng. The fifth is the lead character, Rachel Chu.
- Died early without issue
- Married Nancy Tan
- Married George Yeoh
- Married Bernadette Ling, one son: Oliver T'sien
- Married Bettina Kah
- Married Lady India Heskeith
- Married Anne Lygon
- Married Hon. Penelope Curzon
- alias Radio One Asia
- Married Prince Aakara of the Thai royal family
- Eddie is four years older than his cousins Astrid and Nicholas, who are the same age.
Before his father died of cancer in 2010, Kwan suspended his work for eighteen months to care for him, during which they would reminisce about life in Singapore. He began writing stories as a way to preserve those memories while grieving his father's death. The novel was inspired by his childhood in Singapore. Kwan first developed what became the second chapter of the book from a poem entitled "Singapore Bible Study," which he had written for a creative writing course in college. That poem describes the study group as "an excuse to gossip and show off new jewelry". After adapting that poem into a chapter of a novel, he was inspired to complete the entire story. Kwan shared an incomplete draft of the novel with an editor friend, who later complained he had ruined her Thanksgiving dinner, as she could not put the book down, delaying meal preparations. She encouraged him to engage an agent for the manuscript.
No one was really writing about contemporary Asia and what was happening in Asia in 2009. Asia is growing up and enjoying a renaissance with wealth creation which is now being forwarded to the U.S. and Europe. My mission was to showcase this world as accurately as I could.
Kevin Kwan, August 2016 interview with NextShark
He also recognized there was a gap in the coverage of contemporary Asia in the western book market, which was publishing either historical fiction or Asian-American identity works.
Kwan insists that everything he writes is based on real or at least plausible situations in Singapore, and that he even had to tone some things down because they were so over-the-top, they would be to unbelievable for readers. “My editor was like, ‘No one will believe this.’ And I would say, ‘But this really happened,’ and she’d reply, ‘It doesn’t matter. You’re going to lose readers because it’s going to seem so unreal that people would spend this much money, or do something this excessive.’”
Kwan stated some characters "are loosely inspired by people I know" while others are completely fictional. Tyersall Park was inspired by Kwan's paternal grandparents, with whom he lived while growing up in Singapore. He stated they had "a quiet elegance in the way they carried on with their lives, as well as a beauty to the customs and rituals we practised". The lavish decorations and clothing described in the novel were also inspired by true stories, but Kwan's editor asked him to cut some of those details, as they were hardly believable. Kwan sent the editor links to news articles to prove that "truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to details".
The book trilogy is full of vivid descriptions of sprawling mansions, exotic getaways on private jets complete with a full spa, high fashion and gluttonous feasts. While some of the details, such as a living room with a sunken pond full of baby sharks, seem almost too fantastical to be real, Kwan assures they are. The author, who comes from an old establishment family from Singapore, can still picture the opulent world he had been a part of even decades later. “I remember I had an aunt that lived in a house that had this beautiful ceramic wall that was entirely a painting of a peacock,” he said. “There were all these beautiful scenes from my childhood that really are coated in amber.”
Kwan writes, ‘I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been asked whether women like Astrid truly exist, but I would always answer that, as a child in the late 1970s, I personally knew women who took the Concorde from Singapore to Paris via London twice a year for their couture fittings and that Queen Sirikit of Thailand had been partial to Balmain since 1960. I have pictures of my grandmother from the 1920s and ’30s in avant-garde dresses that looked like they could have come from the House of Worth or Lucien Lelong. She would never say if they were couture, but I do recall her telling me, “All my clothes and shoes came from Paris.”
The novel received positive reviews internationally from sources including The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Independent. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote of the novel, "Mr. Kwan knows how to deliver guilty pleasures. He keeps the repartee nicely outrageous, the excess wretched and the details wickedly delectable."
A film adaptation of the 2013 novel was directed by Jon M. Chu under Warner Bros. Pictures. Filming began in April 2017. It was distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures after being released on August 15, 2018. The director of the film appears in the book as a distant cousin of Rachel Chu's.
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His book opens with a proverb from the 14th-century Muslim scholar Ibn Batuta, who notes that "nowhere in the world are there to be found people richer than the Chinese"
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